Marjorie Lindsay, right, and Danyeal Crittenden: Wash U's construction zone "gatekeepers."
Danyeal Crittenden and Marjorie Lindsay couldn't be blamed for complaining about their jobs. The pair have a two-year assignment as "gatekeepers" on the edge of Washington University, charged with safeguarding students and pedestrians as trucks enter and exit the massive construction zone at Skinker and 1 Brookings Drive. They're out there rain or shine — and, most recently, during some long days in the bitter cold.
But they love the gig — and that's evident to everyone who passes by. "I told Marjorie when we first started that this is our stage, and these are our lights," Crittenden says. "Like we're on a stage. Ever since then, we're just happy. The world needs happiness. The world needs love and smiles."
"Peace, love and happiness," echoes Lindsay.
"We try to make everyone's day," Crittenden says.
And to a remarkable extent, they succeed. The two women are both unmissable and incredibly charming.
They might sing or dance you across the street. ("It used to be wet right there from the water truck," recalls Crittenden, "so one day I slipped off the sidewalk and then I just did the moonwalk. After that, we have people dancing and singing!") When runners pass by, Crittenden has been known to sing the Rocky
theme, just to spur them on. But mostly they're just really friendly, to the point that people now go out of their way to stop by what's otherwise a hellish zone, smiling as they give them a wave or shout their hellos.
A passerby gives the ladies a hug on January 5, a day when temperatures were well below freezing.
They see their assignment as a mission.
"We have a responsibility to be here to make sure everyone is safe on the sidewalk," Lindsay says. "There's a lot of construction going on and a lot of people are lost. We just make sure they get where they're going ... in a happy way."
"You could look at us and say, ‘Oh, it’s so cold out here. I feel sorry for you guys!’ And I’m like, 'Well, we’re working and making money; we’re giving our kids a better chance at life than what we had. That’s what it’s about," says Crittenden. "Like I told Marjorie, we are the light. This is our street and these are our people, and we gotta make them happy. God put us on Skinker and 1 Brookings Drive for a reason."
Technically, they work for Castle Contracting, one of the companies on the construction job. But like all the best employees, they feel a responsibility to the greater good, the wider world. They even once thwarted a bicycle theft — confronting the thief on behalf of a Wash U student. ("That's when I started calling us Cagney & Lacey," Crittenden quips.)
They're excited about the construction project, eagerly detailing how it's going to make the campus a better place. But it's safe to say they're in no hurry for the fifteen months remaining on their assignment to pass by. Rain, sleet or snow, the work gives them joy.
"If we could work here until we retire," Crittenden says, "that would be beautiful."
Theo Welling interviewed Crittenden and Lindsay for this story.
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